The Spirit International – Watch if You Love Amateur Golf

The Spirit International Amateur Golf Championship has been around since 2001 but many people that love golf don’t know about it.  The video below is a nice overview of the championship.

I learned about it because I follow Paige MacKenzie on Twitter and Paige is the captain of the 2013 United States team. Paige is also a former Spirit International competitor.  I watched the last hour of coverage on Thursday and Friday online and really enjoyed it. I wish I could have seen more but it is impossible to watch this type of event during a work week.  You can watch it Saturday (November 2, 2013)  via the live webcast at the Spirit International Website.

There are only four players for each country (20 Countries represented by 2 men and 2 women).  It may be a small field but the golfers are some of the best young players in the world and it is a nice preview of what we can expect to see in the coming years on the professional tours.  Past Spirit International competitors include US stars like Brandt Snedeker and Paula Creamer; as well as international stars such as Jason Day, Charl Schwatzel, Lorena Ochoa, and Ya-Ni Tseng. As they say, the list goes on and on.

The format is interesting because they have multiple competitions which include:

  • International Team- combined best ball of the men’s team and women’s team.
  • Men’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Women’s Team- Best ball of two players (four ball stroke play)
  • Men’s Individual- Most holes under par.
  • Women’s Individual- Most holes under par.

So you can cheer for your favorite country, men’s team, women’s team, and individuals.  I want the United States and Canada to do well because I have lived in the United States most of my life and feel an allegiance to the US; but I was born in Canada and I have a soft spot for athletes from Canada.  I hope that Brooke Henderson (a young Canadian golfer whose career I follow) does well. I am happy to report that as of the end of the second round Brooke is in first place for the Women’s Individual competition.

The United States is leading the overall competition. Check out the Leaderboard to see the other country standings. And if you can’t watch the live webcast then the next best thing is following the championship updates on twitter @thespiritgolf.

UPDATE (November 3 2013) – USA wins overall and Brooke Henderson wins Women’s Championship.  See all results at the Spirit Website.

“Lydia Ko goes Pro” video gets four stars

It has been many months since my last post because I have had a lot of life changes in the past nine months (no, I did not have a child).  I have moved to a new state for a dream job! As we all know with a new job and a big move other things fall to the wayside.  But now I am more settled in my job and new home; and of course fall is here (so less daylight hours to play golf), which makes it a logical time to focus on my blog.

I wanted to start with something light and fun!  And Lydia Ko’s announcement that she is turning pro is just the ticket!  I read that she decided to release a video rather than do a press conference and sure enough she tweeted out to her followers the link to the video on October 22.  Here is the video for your enjoyment:

I give the video four stars because it is entertaining (Lydia speed golfing) and shows her personality (e.g., she laughs a lot); and it certainly beats a boring press conference video.

I have said in a previous post that I am not a fan of the younger and younger players we see in professional events.  And that a player like Michele Wie is a cautionary tale because she is only 23 and struggles to find her game.  But, Lydia Ko seems to be a very poised and talented young women.  Ko has won a number of professional tournaments and made history winning the CN Canadian Women’s Open in 2012 and 2013. As the press has pointed out, Ko has left over $1 Million in money on the table as an amateur.

Now we just have to wait for the LPGA Commissioner, Mike Whan, to approve her request to waive the rule requiring LPGA professionals to be at least 18 years old.  The waiver is a  “fiat accompli” given the popularity of Ko, the fact she has already won multiple professional events as an amateur, and Whan waived the age requirement for Lexi Thompson after she won an LPGA event.

As a professional, Ko will face a new kind of scrutiny because everyone will be watching to see if she falters under the “pressure” of being a pro. Time and time again a young amateur golfer is hailed as the next “Tiger or Annika” and seems to lose their talent (or maybe free spirit) as a professional.  Only time will tell if Ko is able win as much as a professional as she did as an amateur.

Hopefully, she will have a smooth transition from the “darling of the amateur ranks” to a regular pro on tour. Bottom line, I know I will be watching to see how she plays in her first tournament as a professional.

Michelle Wie’s 2013 season is off to a rough start

Michelle Wie is a very popular LPGA player.  She really made her name as an amateur and was viewed as the golden girl who would help rejuvenate the struggling brand of women’s golf when she turned pro in 2005 (note: her LPGA Rookie year is 2009.)  Fast forward to 2013 and Michelle Wie is still a popular player on the LPGA tour but she has not achieved the “greatness” bestowed on her as an Amateur.

In the press this week Michelle Wie spoke about all the hard work she had done during the off-season — working on every part of her game.  Unfortunately at the Women’s Australian Open this week Wie missed the cut by 2 strokes or 1-over par.  That might not seem bad but it is awful compared to the leader (after two rounds) at 15-under par.  So Wie starts her 2013 year where she ended her 2012 season — missing cuts.

2012 really was a horrible year for Wie. She played 23 tournaments and missed the cut 10 times.  We could state this in a positive way and say she made the cut (or played the weekend and earned money) 13 out of 23 times (or 56% of the time) but that is still awful.

Let’s look at some statistics for the last three years.

Chart of Stats for Wie

Michelle Wie has never been a great putter and in 2012 she had no confidence.  She would stand over a putt for an eternity and still miss it.  Wie has always been long off the tee (she is ranked 4 in overall driving distance) but being long does not matter when you look at Wie’s greens in regulation (GIR) and driving accuracy statistics which are poor.  In general, the statistics I have looked at indicate that many of the top players have GIRs between 72% and 76%. The top players also have putting averages below 30 (the really great putter’s have averages between 25 to 27).  Let’s look at Wei’s statistics against two other American stars.

Stats Comparision ChartOne last comparison (for fun) — Michelle Wie was in the LPGA rookie class of 2009.  Another member of the 2009 class, Jiyai Shin.  Shin won the Women’s Australian Open this week beating Yani Tseng (#1 Ranked women golfer in the world) and Lydia Ko (#1 ranked amateur golfer in the world).  Shin is also the current RICOH Women’s British Open Champion.  In 2012, Shin played 18 LPGA tournaments and made the cut in all 18 events. In 2010, Shin was the #1 player in the world rankings for 16 weeks.  Shin is a serious contender in 2013.

Will Michelle Wie ever achieve the success of, Jiyai Shin, her LPGA rookie year classmate?  Will Wei regain some of the glory of her amateur career?  Will she find the success so many people expected of her since turning pro?  Only time will tell but it crossed my mind today that maybe time is running out for Wie to achieve “greatness.”  Given Wie is only 23 years old that might seem like a ridiculous statement but the LPGA is full of young talented players so it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Wie may have missed her time to dominate.  My hope for Wie is that she finds her game soon.

2013 PGA Merchandise Show – Morning Drive and LPGA News

The ability to follow the PGA Merchandise show from the comfort of your own home is amazing!  I am here in the cold Northeast (seven degrees this morning) and seeing updates on Twitter, Facebook, Ustream and more.

The Golf Channel Morning Drive show and the LPGA both started tweeting early in the morning that big announcements were coming.  Given I am a fan of both, I was curious to see what was “big” to each organization.

Morning Drive Announcement

The Morning Drive show is expanding to seven days a week.  Great!  They are adding to the cast.  Most of co-anchor additions make sense because they have been on the show or are members of the golf channel.  The one odd addition is Ahmad Rashad. He is an NBC broadcast “star” so I get that but what does he know about golf?  I guess we will find out soon.

The other big reveal was the new set of the show.  Below is a photo of the old set.

Morning Drive Set

TV Screen Shot of Holly Sonders on Morning Drive Set. Click image to Enlarge.

Now one thing I always liked about the current set is that it seemed “cozy” and had lots of golf memorabilia and “chotskies” on the set.  I also think the intimate feel of the set added to the relaxed style of the co-anchors.  It never felt like a “formal” news show like the evening recap show, Golf Central.

The Golf Channel provided a photo gallery of the new set.  If you click on the photo below it will take you to a cool time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

Click on Photo to see a time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

Click on Photo to see a time-lapse video of the construction of the new set.

The new set and staff is a clear indication of the success of the show.  I will keep an open mind but I hope what I loved most about the show does not get lost in the new high-gloss set.

LPGA Announcement

In a previous post, The LPGA’s Marketing Challenge, I noted some concerns about the tour’s perception in the American market.  Basically, the LPGA is a global tour but the American market needs a new star which I felt was Stacy Lewis.  I am happy to see that the tour is now promoting Stacy Lewis.  Stacy certainly made it easier for them by winning Player of the Year.  I am happy to see the management at the LPGA finally embracing Stacy Lewis as a tour star.

The LPGA also deserves credit for figuring out a way to capitalize on the statement they have been emphasizing all year that they are a “global tour.”  I was thrilled with the announcement of the “International Crown” by the LPGA.  It is a new match play tournament that will debut in 2014.  The tournament will be 8 countries vying for the crown. I also like the promotional video.

And to my point earlier about promoting Stacy Lewis, there is a nice video of Stacy talking about the new tournament.

I like the International Crown for two reasons.  First, the LPGA did not just follow the PGA tour and create a “Presidents Cup” for the ladies.  The Presidents Cup is the USA against the rest of the world (minus Europe).  Second, it ties nicely to the fact that golf will be part of the Olympics in 2016 and what do we all love to do during the Olympics? Cheer for our country.  The fact fans love to cheer for their country should make the International Crown a big hit among golf fans; and hopefully, bring new fans to the LPGA.

LPGA Q-School Stage III Results

The grind of Q-school is over for the ladies and congratulations to the women that got their LPGA cards for 2013!  For anyone following my blog you know that I have been following the LPGA Q-school since stage I.  After stage II I reported that I would be watching four players in Stage III:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam (Thailand) – One of the top amateur players in women’s golf.
  2. Brooke Pancake – Winner of the 2012 Collegiate Women Sports Award for Golf.
  3. Anya Alvarez – A player from the 2012 Big Break Atlantis.
  4. Christina Kim  –  LPGA Professional that has been on tour for 10 years, is very popular, well-known on Twitter, and struggling with her game.

Note: On September 4, 2012, I wrote an overview of the LPGA Q-School.

LPGA Stage III Q-School Results

Stage III of the LPGA Q-school was held Nov 28 to Dec 2, at LPGA International in Daytona Beach, Florida.  They played two courses, the Champion & Legends.  The full results give the scores for all five rounds and the final positions. The top 20 get full-status on the LPGA tour for 2013 and players finishing 21-45 get conditional status (so they may get to play a few tournaments but not many).  If you want to see a good list of the 20 players to secure their cards read the Golf Week Article.  Here are how the four I followed finished:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam – Tied 1st place, total score 347 (13 under par). As a winner she will forever have the title of medalist honors for Q-School!  This is a good omen given that past medalists include Stacy Lewis (2012 Player of the Year). I am not surprised she won since she has been one of the top amateur players this year.  But, she did not end with a solo win.  Jutanugam shares the medalist honors with Rebecca Lee-Bentham (who was a rookie on the LPGA in 2012 but needed to go to Q-school to retain her LPGA status).
  2. Brooke Pancake – Tied 11th, total Score 356 (four under par). I’ve been following Pancake since her last year in college (because I liked her name and now I am a fan of her game).  It will be fun to watch her during her rookie year in 2013.
  3. Anya Alvarez – Tied 54th, total score 363 (four over par). Unfortunately for Alvarez she did not get her tour card.  Shooting 75, and 75 the first two days was not a great start and even with a 69 on day three she did not recover and shot 74, and 70 to finish out her week.
  4. Christina Kim – Tied 39, total score 361 (one over par). Kim only had one good day during the week.  Round 2 she shoot a 67 (but the rest of her scores were 72,73,74,75 – not in that order).  But Kim fares better than Alvarez because of her career she will play with sponsor exemptions too.  I wasn’t sure how sponsor exemptions work so I tweeted a question to Stina Sternberg, Senior Editor, Golf Digest, covering women’s golf.  As Sternberg explains, Kim won a conditional card (for finishing in T39) but that does not help a lot.  But she gets in to at least 6 tournaments on sponsor exemptions; and can play in USWO (United States Women’s Open) qualifiers to get into the US Women’s Open.
Image of Twitter Conversation with Stina Sternberg

Twitter Conversation with Stina Sternberg

Results for Big Break Alum

Anya Alverez was not the only Big Break Alum in Stage III.  There were two other players at Q-school from past Big Break shows.

  1. Kim Welch – Tied 11th, total score 356 (4 under par).  Welch was the winner on Big Break Ka’anapali in 2008 so it just shows how hard it is to make it on to the LPGA tour.
  2. Kelly Jacques – Tied 17th, total score 357 (3 under par).  However, Jacques (from Big Break Ireland 2011) had a more heartbreaking end to her Q-school.  Jacques ended in seven-player tie for the final four spots in the top-20 so she had to go into a playoff.  Unfortunately she did not win one of the 4 spots and only got conditional status but it is still a great accomplishment.

Final Thoughts

The LPGA Q-school is great golf drama and I wish it had been televised on the Golf Channel.  I know it is expensive to televise golf but I think the final round would have been exciting for golfers to watch on TV.  At a minimum, I would have liked the Golf Channel to have more video from each day.  After all, the Golf Channel did show clips from the PGA Q-school on Golf Central each day.  Perhaps next year the Golf Channel will give air time to LPGA Q-school.  Given that the PGA is changing their process for next year and getting rid of Q-School for the PGA tour — maybe, just maybe the LPGA will get the spotlight next year.

Cristie Kerr wins and ends two-year drought

There were a lot of great stories to follow this week in golf.  The stories included which bubble boys of the PGA tour would make the top 125, Charlie Beljan being so ill on Friday that he had to go the hospital after his round and then he wins the tournament on Sunday, and Stacy Lewis clinching LPGA Player of the Year; but I want to acknowledge Cristie Kerr’s win at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational.

First, I followed the action on Twitter and my Golf Channel iPhone App because the tournament was not televised.  Hopefully the LPGA and the Golf Channel were monitoring the twitter conversation because I was not the only fan that lamented the fact it was not on TV.  It should be noted that the tournament page on the LPGA website lists TV times on November 15, 16, 17 and 18 but in my mind that is “a day late and a dollar short.”

Fortunately, the LPGA YouTube channel has highlight videos.  It was interesting to see that Angela Standford missed her birdie putt on the 18th hole which would have tied Kerr at sixteen under.  Then Kerr misses her birdie putt on the 18th and has a testy par putt to win.  Even Kerr said that she “had to make it interesting” in the end. If you don’t want to watch the full video below, fast forward to the time of 1:53 to see Stanford’s putt and Kerr’s highlights and interview.

It was nice to see Cristie Kerr win.  She is 35 years old and this was her 15th career win and she has 17 of the 27 points needed to get into the Hall of Fame.  It’s a big challenge to become a Hall of Fame Golfer but I believe Kerr has the determination and game to make it into the Hall of Fame.  However, as Brent Kelly wrote in his article, “The LPGA’s Hall of Fame Criteria are Anything but Easy,” the LPGA’s point system is “much more stringent than those of just about any other sports Hall of Fame you can name.”

Finally, some people may not be as positive about Kerr winning or wish her the best because the rumors on the internet indicate she has a prickly personality.  I do not know Kerr so I’m not going to judge her interpersonal skills.  This is about acknowledging an athlete overcoming a two-year drought and winning again in a very competitive sport.

LPGA Q-School Stage II Results

In my post on the results of Stage 1 of Q-School, I reported that I would be watching four players in Stage II:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam (Thailand) – the winner of LPGA Q-School Stage 1
  2. Brooke Pancake – winner of the 2012 Collegiate Women Sports Award for Golf
  3. Jaye Marie Green – runner-up to Lydia Ko at 2012 US Women’s Amateur
  4. Shannon Fish – the only one of six Golf Channel Big Break Atlantis contestants in Stage 1 of Q-School to move to Stage II of Q-school.

Note: On September 4, 2012, I wrote an overview of the LPGA Q-School.

LPGA Stage II Q-School Results

Stage II of the LPGA Q-school was held Oct. 9-12, at Plantation Golf and Country Club in Venice, Fla.   The full results give the scores for all four rounds and the final positions. The top 70 plus ties move to Stage III.  The winner Katie Burnett shot 273 (15 under par).  Here are how the four golfers listed-above performed:

  1. Moriya Jutanugam – Tied 16th, Score: 288 (even par) – Moving to Stage III
  2. Brooke Pancake – Tied 20th, Score: 289 (one over par) – Moving to Stage III
  3. Jaye Marie Green – Tied 77, Score: 296 (eight over par) – Not Moving forward*
  4. Shannon Fish – T113th, Score: 308 (thirteen over par) – Not moving forward*

* These players do gain status on the Symetra Tour for 2013. The Symetra tour is the future’s tour for the LPGA.

Results for Big Break Atlantis Alum

As mentioned in my Stage 1 Q-School post, three players from Big Break Atlantis did not need to play Stage 1 of Q-school (they automatically qualified for Stage II).  The three players were Anya Alvarez, Marcela Leon, and Gloriana Soto.

Only Anya Alvarez is moving to Stage III of Q-school.  Alvarez shot seven over par and finished tied in the 63rd position.  The winner of Big Break Atlantis Marcela Leon, shot 296 (eight over par) and missed the cut by one stroke.  It should be noted that the Stage II preliminary field listed Gloriana Soto but it does not appear she participated in Stage II.

Stage III LPGA Q-School

The final stage of Q-School will be held November 28-December 2, 2012 at the LPGA International Golf Course in Daytona Beach Florida.  This will include the golfers from Stage II as well as current LPGA players that are hoping to improve their status (which determines the tournaments they are eligible to play in 2013).

Which LPGA players will go “back to Q-School?”  One LPGA player that has had a tough year and will be heading to Q-School is Christina Kim.  Kim has been on tour for 10 years, is very popular, and well-known on Twitter.  From a marketing perspective, the LPGA wants this “star” to have full tour status in 2013.   Who else will join Kim? I think we can all guess but I’ll be good and wait until the official list of participants is released to comment.